A former prosecutor for the St. Louis Circuit Attorney’s Office pleaded guilty in federal court today to concealing her knowledge of St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department (SLMPD) officers’ assault upon an arrestee, announced U.S. Attorney Tammy Dickinson of the Western District of Missouri and Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.
Bliss Barber Worrell, 28, of Clayton, Missouri, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Henry E. Autrey of the Eastern District of Missouri to misprision of a felony.
Worrell admitted that she failed to notify authorities that on July 22, 2014, police officers assaulted an arrestee in their custody, and that she took an affirmative step to conceal the felony. Worrell also admitted that she filed charges without disclosing knowledge of the assault to her colleagues, supervisors or the judge assigned to setting a bond. She admitted that she allowed the charges to stand despite later learning that the facts that made out the charge of attempted escape were fabricated to cover for injuries the arrestee sustained during the assault.
“Prosecutors are trusted to exercise discretion in enforcing the law and are charged above all with doing justice in a fair and impartial manner,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Gupta. “In this instance, the defendant ran afoul of her obligation to uphold the Constitution, and must therefore be held to answer for her actions.”
“An officer of the court allowed her friendship with a police officer to eclipse her public obligation to uphold justice,” said U.S. Attorney Dickinson. “This remains an ongoing investigation that extends farther than this defendant’s role in covering up an egregious civil rights violation.”
Worrell served as an assistant circuit attorney (ACA) in the St. Louis Circuit Attorney’s Office Misdemeanor Division from August 2013 through July 2014. In that capacity, she prosecuted criminal violations of Missouri state statutes on behalf of the state of Missouri. One of her duties was to make determinations as to whether there was probable cause that an individual committed a crime, based on evidence provided to her by law enforcement and/or civilian witnesses.
According to today’s plea agreement, Worrell developed a close friendship with a veteran officer of the SLMPD, who is not identified in court documents. On July 22, 2014, the officer informed Worrell that an individual, identified as M.W., was arrested at Ballpark Village by another officer for possessing the veteran officer’s daughter’s credit card. On July 23, 2014, the veteran officer provided Worrell with additional details and told Worrell that he had thrown M.W. against a wall, beat him up, thrown a chair at him and “shoved [his] pistol down the guy’s throat.” After the conversation, Worrell met the arresting officer who confirmed that M.W. was found with stolen credit cards, and that M.W. had resisted arrest and attempted to flee.
Working with a new ACA, Worrell issued charges against M.W. herself, including charges for resisting and attempting to escape, despite knowing that she should wait for an ACA without personal knowledge of the case to become available. Worrell concealed her knowledge that M.W. had been assaulted at the police station.
After issuing the charges, Worrell had another conversation with the veteran officer and learned that the attempted escape charge was fabricated. Worrell concealed this information from her supervisors, allowing the charge to stand.
This case is being investigated by the FBI’s St. Louis Division. The case is being prosecuted by First Assistant U.S. Attorney David M. Ketchmark of the Western District of Missouri, who has been appointed as Special Attorney to the U.S. Attorney General, and Trial Attorney Fara Gold of the Civil Rights Division. The U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Western District of Missouri is prosecuting this case with the Civil Rights Division due to the recusal of the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Eastern District of Missouri.